Charlottefield live @ Ubik, Cafe Saki, Rusholme MCR 2/12/07

December 13, 2007

The first Charlottefield material I heard was an EP’s-worth of ridiculously strong live mp3s, taken, I guess, by minidisc out of the crowd. They sounded stunning – tight, fast, stylish, intelligent, original, pretty much everything I admired. They were instantly catapulted to the top of my list of new British bands to care about.

 I bought the debut album, How Long Are You Staying, in a state of fervent excitement, but was so disappointed by its relative formality that after the first week or so, I couldn’t listen to it. Yes, Ashley Marlowe’s octopus drumming was centre stage, yes, the bass was perfectly measured, yes, shards of guitar were panned either side and broke from the oaken percussive trunk of the sound like so many splinters – there was abrasion, there was power, there was a glorious sense of imminent crisis (a bad moon on the rise…), there was a sense of ungodly control, an underlying solemnity… but everything felt too restrained, too controlled…

So the album disappeared into my collection for a few months.

 Then I picked it out again when I was getting ready to go see them at Ubik and found, to my delight, that this time, it made total sense. The noise elements were still there, but it was the dexterity of the playing and the melodic and rhythmic ideas were brought to the fore, rather than that Sturm und Drang I so craved.

 It is notoriously difficult to record noise bands effectively, so its good news that Charlottefield are not just a noise band. They structure songs with serious intelligence and of course, by the time I finally get my head around their first album, they’ve already recorded their next one. So I sit down by the front of the stage to watch them, at half eleven on a December Sunday night. Drummer Ashley Marlowe, sitting centre stage, looks around at the band members huddled around him, heads down. Resembling a wild backwoodsman, he counts the group in and then plays his labyrinthine patterns, absolutely the eye of this particular storm.

 Everything revolves around the drumming, but when Marlowe does pause for thought and leave space, other elements take up the slack, most frequently Thomas House’s howled vocals. The guitars add layers to the rhythmic momentum and are subtly played. Bassy, droning, controlled feedback links diverse musical ideas; the bass player Chris Butler watches his instrument with care, rolling out superbly designed counterpoints, deciding not to try to match Marlowe’s frantic style by flurrying bass notes all over the place – instead, he allows the percussion to provide the rhythmic showmanship on its own and plays slow-motion melodies over the top, dropping in and out for added emphasis. This is sensible, intelligent, egoless playing.

I recognise little of the set, as they play material largely culled from the as yet unreleased second LP, but my abiding memory as I walk away is of a song beginning with a cloud of harmonics and proceeding, with its delicate, thoughtful air, to finally obliterate my original conception of Charlottefield as an incredibly visceral punk rock force. Those early mp3s showed the intelligence and the song craft, but mostly, the amphetamine-strength head charge; on tonight’s evidence, however, Charlottefield have slowed down since those early days, in order to evolve into a more brooding, complex and sombre musical machine.

It would be nice, of course, to simply be able to go see them, put your head down and mosh, but they almost seem to be saying, in a very stately, determined way, “take a look at the world around you in 2007. 30 years on from punk, life isn’t like that anymore”.

This is a band I can believe in.


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